A Weird Imagination

Status of long-running copy

The problem#

When running an incremental backup with rsync with the --progress flag, it often spends lot of time outputting nothing as it scans through many unchanged files. If you think of it before starting the transfer, --info=progress2 or the name2/skip2 --info flags would give more detail, but once the transfer has been going for a while, you probably don't want to cancel and restart it so you can add those flags.

The solution#

The documentation and this StackExchange answer say you can send a SIGVTALRM signal to rsync version 3.2.0+ and it will output its current progress, but that wasn't working for me.

As a workaround, you can use strace to get a running log of which files rsync is looking at, which includes files it skips without actually opening:

strace --attach="$(pidof rsync)" --trace=openat

(If that's not showing anything, try removing the --trace=openat filter and seeing if there's other syscalls with paths to filter on.)

Alternatively, this StackExchange answer suggests a way to see the currently open files including their sizes (including directories but not unchanged files being inspected):

watch lsof -p"$(pidof rsync | tr ' ' ',')"

(The same should work for a recursive cp/mv/rm.)

Similarly, for getting the status of a transfer of a single large file, this answer attempts to read the files cp is reading/writing to give a running percentage of how much it has copied; a similar approach might work for rsync.

The details#

SIGINFO on BSD and Mac OS X#

On BSD (and inherited by Mac OS X), sending SIGINFO, which by default is sent to the current process by typing Ctrl+T, causes many utilities to output a status line, including rsync and cp. For whatever reason, Linux does not have this feature. Instead on Linux, rsync has SIGVTALRM as an alternative while dd uses SIGUSR1 and cp seems to just not have an equivalent feature.


strace logs all of the system calls made by a process (or set of processes). Since any filesystem operation involves a system call, that's a sufficient granularity to get the information we want. Note that without the filter it will also dump the contents of any file writes, which is likely much more detail than you want, although not relevant if rsync is just inspecting files and deciding to not actually do any transfers. I selected the filter just by running it without the filter and seeing which lines seemed useful.

The documentation explicitly states the --attach option can accept a whitespace-delimited list of PIDs in order to directly accept the result of pidof or pgrep. Also note that when using --attach, killing strace doesn't kill the process it's watching, so it's safe to attach for a few seconds and then kill strace once you've verified there's really some work still being done.


lsof lists the files currently open on a filesystem or by a process. It doesn't continuously log open files, so it has to be combined with watch to display a snapshot of the currently open files every couple seconds. Notably when using this to watch an rsync task scanning through a lot of files it wasn't transferring, about half the time it showed no open files, so it may be less useful than the strace command for that use case. On the other hand, it will show the size of the open files, which effectively gives a rough status of large file transfers.

Unlike strace, lsof requires multiple PIDs to be comma-separated, so my command above has to use tr to replace the spaces with commas.


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